Midwest Road Trip Will Be Big Gauge of Giants' Progress

Kevin O'BrienCorrespondent IJune 27, 2009

SEATTLE  - MAY 24:  Pitcher Barry Zito #75 of the San Francisco Giants gives up the ball to manager Bruce Bochy #15 during the game against the Seattle Mariners on May 24, 2009 at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Tonight's 5-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers is only one game. The Giants are still 39-33 and still in good shape as a team overall (even though the Rockies are nipping on the heels of the Giants at a breakneck pace).

And after all, there is more than half a season of Giants baseball left to be played.

But that doesn't mean that this road trip against Milwaukee and St. Louis is one to be taken lightly. Sure, the Giants are in a close race with Brewers for the Wild Card position.

That being said, Wild Card races only get serious come August, not in June.

The real reason the two series against these stellar NL Central opponents is so critical is because the Giants will be going against two offensive juggernauts that have some of the best hitters in baseball.

Case in point: The Brewers and Cardinals rank in the top five in the National League in four and two categories, respectively (Brewers: runs, home runs, OPS and slugging percentage. Cardinals: home runs and slugging percentage).

And if that isn't enough, the Brewers have one of the top power hitters in the game in Prince Fielder, while the Cardinals feature the best all-around hitter in the game in Albert Pujols.

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The bottom line? It is one thing for the Giants pitching staff to earn their stripes against struggling offensive teams like the Oakland A's (even though it was fun to take five out of six from our rivals across the Bay).

However, if the Giants pitching staff and team in general want to show that they are true contenders in the National League West and Wild Card race, then stepping up and saving face on this road trip is an absolute must.

Now, I am not saying the Giants need to win six in a row against talented teams like the Cardinals and Brewers (and that obviously won' t happen after tonight's loss).

Yet coming out of this trip with a .500 record on this road trip should be top priority for Bruce Bochy and the Giants crew.

Some may say my expectations are low by wanting a .500 record on this road trip, but in reality it isn't. The Brewers and Cardinals playoff-potential teams who are both over .500 at home.

Figure that in with a Giants road record that is six games under .500, and a run differential that is only plus-seven despite boasting a staff the is allowing the fewest runs in baseball, and you have a recipe for a disaster.

Because let's face it, the Giants really haven't been a very good road team this year. They may be better than last year's squad on the road, but that is like saying Ruben Studdard was better than Justin Guarini in terms of post-"American Idol" singing career.

In order for the Giants to achieve that .500 record on this trip, the Giants will need to win with offense for a change in these two series.

The Milwaukee and St. Louis hitters are that good. Hitters like Ryan Braun showed that after tattooing Matt Cain tonight.

Mustering up one or two runs a game isn't going to win games in these series like it did against Texas. The offensive weapons the Cardinals and Brewers have just won't be shut down as easily.

So that begs the question, who steps up for the Giants? Sandoval and Schierholtz showed some life in the game one loss, but unfortunately, no one else pretty much showed up as Gallardo at one point retired 16 batters in a row. 16 batters!

Give Gallardo credit; he's an excellent pitcher. That being said though, a team that considers themselves to be playoff contenders can't have that happen, no matter how good a pitcher may be.

Whatever the Giants need to do to muster up some offense for this road trip they better do it quickly. Already, they used Cain and he got shelled for five runs in a decent, but inconsistent outing.

If anything, Cain's performance shows that the pitchers won't be able to bail out mediocre offensive showings all the time, and the Giants need to generate serious runs from time to time to compete against offensive teams.

If the Giants' hitters can step up and muster the kind of offensive performances that can produce a .500 record or better on this road stint against two very good National League teams, then things could be good on the horizon in terms of how competitive this team will be come August and September.

However, as of now, they are not off to a good start. I just hope that tomorrow, in game two of the Brewers series, Seth McClung doesn't retire 16 Giants in a row like Gallardo did tonight.

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